On Monday, August 10, 2020, the City of Norwalk announced a new Connectivity Initiative that will close the digital divide for school-aged children in Norwalk. Survey results indicate 7-8% of Norwalk Public School families do not have access to high-quality, reliable internet service. This Initiative is a huge step forward toward achieving universal access by ensuring 1,000 families with school-aged children have access to high-speed internet at no-cost for one year and are connected to digital literacy coaching, local housing, mental health, food, and other social service resources. Norwalk Mayor Harry W. Rilling was joined by Norwalk Public Schools, Dalio Education, Altice/Optimum, foundation representatives, and families at a special press conference earlier today for this announcement.
The City of Norwalk has budgeted $150,000 for the Connectivity Initiative to provide staff support for in-need families. Dalio Education is a lead supporter of the Initiative, providing $315,000 to Norwalk Public Schools which will contract with Altice/Optimum to provide high-speed internet to 1,000 Norwalk families, this will be supplemented with a $50,000 grant from the Be Foundation. The Per and Astrid Heidenreich Family Foundation and The Ritter Family Foundation have each provided grants of $125,000 to support the Community Services Department and the Family Navigators.
“We know that access to the internet is critical for families and students, not only for distance learning, but for educational research, job opportunities, and social connections. We also understand that those lacking reliable internet service and access to needed social services are disproportionately people of color, people with low income, students with disabilities, and non-native English speakers. The Connectivity Initiative is designed to ensure our most vulnerable families have equitable access to vital services in Norwalk,” Mayor Rilling said. “This Initiative would not be possible without the generous support of the philanthropic community, spearheaded by Dalio Education. The support of Barbara and her staff laid the groundwork for other supporters to sign on, including Altice/Optimum which will provide the internet connection. It is thanks to Barbara and her team that the Connectivity Initiative is coming to fruition.”
“COVID-19 has highlighted the consequences of the ‘digital divide’ so prevalent in our community,” Rilling added. “As schools transitioned to digital learning this spring, we saw that some students had difficulty fully participating due to inadequate and frankly unequal access to educational resources. We saw students sitting outside of the library to connect to WiFi. We also know that some families lack the basic knowledge required to navigate the various digital educational tools.”
The Connectivity Initiative is structured in three tiers depending on family and student need. Tier I provides reliable high-speed internet connection to those who currently lack service. Tier II provides digital literacy support for families and students to effectively navigate virtual learning provided by Norwalk Public Schools. Tier III provides families and students with personal Family Navigators through the City’s Community Services Department who will help them navigate the social services network and connect them with resources, such as food, health care, and housing.
“I am thrilled that this creative collaboration is expanding connectivity for 1,000 school-aged children and their families in Norwalk,” said Barbara Dalio, Founder and Director of Dalio Education. “By working together with great partners like the Ritters, the Heidenreichs, and the Be Foundation, as well as Altice/Optimum, we are making progress step-by-step in closing the digital divide. And thanks to Mayor Rilling and Superintendent Estrella all children in Norwalk now have connectivity, enabling them to learn.”
Altice/Optimum have created a special discounted package for this Initiative and internet service provided to Norwalk families will be 100 Mbps with a hard-wired connection, ensuring the most reliable speeds. The service will be underwritten by Norwalk Public Schools through the Dalio Education and Be Foundation grants. Installation is included in the dedicated package, and families will be able to contact Altice/Optimum directly for any customer support needs.
“Access to high-speed broadband service at home is critical to the success of our local communities, particularly as the COVID-19 crisis has forced many families to work and learn remotely,” said Lee Schroeder, Executive Vice President of Government and Community Affairs. “Altice USA and Optimum are committed to helping families in need stay connected and are honored to partner with Mayor Rilling, Dalio Education, the Norwalk schools and all the Connectivity Initiative partners on this innovative solution to help bridge the digital divide and bring high-speed connectivity and devices into more homes across Connecticut.”
Norwalk Public Schools quickly transitioned to distance (virtual) learning in March due to COVID-19. NPS was a model district in Connecticut for turnaround time in establishing a robust virtual learning experience. However, approximately 8% of families surveyed reported a lack of technology or reliable internet as a barrier to success. Chromebooks and laptops are now available to every student in the district, so that all children can participate in virtual learning opportunities as needed. The Connectivity Initiative will help ensure no student is without the tools or technical knowledge to navigate virtual learning. Families who opt-in for distance learning, non-native English speakers, and families with low incomes will be prioritized.
“The Connectivity Initiative aligns with Norwalk’s strong commitment to ensuring equity in education and excellence for all students,” said Dr. Alexandra Estrella, superintendent, Norwalk Public Schools. “The district’s unexpected transition to distance learning this spring put a spotlight on the issue of internet and technology access. When families lack a reliable, high quality connection to online resources and virtual learning, it puts their children at a disadvantage, especially in these challenging times. On behalf of our students, we are grateful for the support, resources and commitment made today by all of the partners in this Initiative.”
The Connectivity Initiative and supporting grants require Common Council approval. Both will be on the agenda for discussion and vote on Tuesday, August 11 at 7:30 p.m. The meeting will be broadcast on Zoom and YouTube. To view the meeting or submit comments, visit norwalkct.org/meetings.